News Day Tuesday: Race and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain greet each other before their 2nd presidential debate. (photo by Paul J. Richards)

Citizens of the GBD!  By the time you read this, I will have entered the booth, closed the drapes, flipped the switches, and pulled the lever!  Whoohoo!!  Yeah Election 2008!!!  Should I calm down with the exclamation points?  Ok.

This is my 4th presidential election.  The first one was exciting because it was my first.  The second one was a nail-biter (Bush vs. Gore, Florida, chads…this election was ultimately decided by 537 votes out of the almost 6 million votes cast in Florida.  In other words, it came down to 0.009% of the people who voted in Florida).  The third one was a heartbreaker.  But this one, my fourth one, is by far the most exciting and intense election I’ve had the privilege to participate in.

As many of you have probably already heard about a bajillion times…this election is historic.  One of the reasons for this is that Barack Obama is the first black American to have an honest-to-goodness chance at becoming the next President of the United States.  In an ideal world, race would never have been an issue in this campaign. But unfortunately, we do not live an ideal world.  And so, given this state of affairs, much has been written about how much of a factor race has played in this election.

Some have written about the “race card” or the “elephant in the room.”  Others have written about the “Bradley effect.”  There are articles about ordinary citizens and their honest responses to the topic of race.  And finally, there are tons of articles about polling.  One of the polls that has been written about is an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll, conducted by Stanford University, that asked participants questions related to race.  You can read about the poll and its results here.

In order to gauge the participants’ views on race, the poll asked them how well certain adjectives (both positive and negative) described blacks.  It also asked them how much they agreed with certain statements.  For example, one of the statements was: “If blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.”  According to the poll, people who agreed with this statement were much less likely to support Obama than those who didn’t.

What’s interesting about this poll is the relatively new methods used to gather responses.  One of these new (and somewhat controversial) methods is called the Implicit-Association Test (IAT).  The IAT was developed to explore “the instant connections the brain draws between races and traits.”  The IAT is administered on a computer, and the participant is instructed to associate a set of words with a particular set of images.  The idea behind this test is not to accuse people of bigotry, but to heighten their awareness of attitudes or prejudices they may have, but which “are so deeply rooted that people may not realize they have them.” You can read more about the IAT in this article from Time Magazine.  It’s a really interesting article about race and the brain, and not that long, so give it a read if you can. 🙂

Anyway, the people who developed the IAT made one for the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election.  Participants are told whether they “slightly,” “moderately,” or “strongly” prefer either blacks or whites, and either Obama or McCain.  I took this test and found the results both predictable and surprising.  It doesn’t take long…about 10 minutes.  And again, this isn’t a “test” test.  The results are meant to open you up to yourself and to reflect, not to classify you as this or that type of person.  If you’d like to take the test, or just read more about it, go here.

According to a New York Times article that came out a couple days ago, Barack Obama would lose if the election were restricted to only white voters.  However, the article also says that Obama has more support among whites than Democratic nominees normally do.  So what do you think?  Has race played a major factor in this election?  The latest Gallup poll shows Obama leading McCain by 11 percentage points.  Do you think that’s more or less how things will turn out?  Or will Obama win by significantly less than that?  Or will he lose?  If the actual results differ far from what the polls are predicting, how much do you think race accounted for the disparity?


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51 Responses to “News Day Tuesday: Race and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election”

  1. Emma-Lu Says:

    Kathy, that’s a really good article and well written blog! Gosh there are so many grey areas as regards the racial question and bias in the US election. I’d like to think people can just view each other as just another human being; who is equally entitled and capable. Unfortunately, for a major mind-shift and behavioural change to occur, it takes years and years and more years of open-minded education and mindfulness. My only concern is that even if we put all the right things in place for absolute equality and no racial bias in any aspect of society, I think that human nature is such that people find reasons to give in to their distrusting natures and will mostly look for opportunities to say, :’See I told you so!’. It’s the melodramas that perpetuate fear in human beings when drastic changes are faced.

  2. Emma-Lu Says:

    Oops! I didn’t really answer your question Kathy on why Barack has got so much support from the ‘white voters’.
    Here goes: I think the NY times article made a good point:
    ‘That Obama has neutralised the subject of race and so he’s convinced voters that he’s not a one-issue man’.

  3. Emil Says:

    Good article. But as someone who wont be able to vote (I live in sweden) I find it interesting that the election seems to be more about voting for a person then for his politics. Granted there is a big difference in the election systems and power given to the person winning compared to the swedish election, but still.

    And thanks for the link.
    “The results of your tests are outlined below:

    Your data suggests a moderate automatic preference for White people over Black people

    Your data suggests a strong automatic preference for Barack Obama over John McCain”

  4. Jennifer Says:

    Well the New York Times were wrong cause I’m white and I’m voting Obama.

    Yes I do think that race has played a major factor in this election. I’ve heard several people say that they are Democrats but won’t vote for Obama just because of his race.

    I’m not sure about your poll question Kathy. I’m hoping Obama stays ahead in the polls.

    All I know is the U.S. can’t afford any more of Bush’s crap! Our country is at it’s worst because of him being in office for 8 years. I watched Obama’s 30 minute commercial that aired and I believe he is the right man to run our country. He’s a family man and most importantly he’s more for the middle class. People are losing their homes,jobs,they can’t afford food for their table,milk and gas prices are too high,seniors can’t afford their medicines. I believe Obama is the change we need.

    Obama 08!!!!!

  5. taylor nikole Says:

    well a town voted last night at midnight…
    a whole 21 whoppingg votes 🙂
    and it was 16 to 5… Obama lead…
    im so nervous
    and upset that i cant vote…
    next time i can though 🙂
    ill give more thoughts on the article itself later..
    gonna be late for school

  6. LI Says:

    Hope Obama will win 😀

  7. MarilyneL Says:

    O-b-a-m-a!!!! I’m Canadian but I can’t wait to watch him win! 😛

  8. t Says:

    woot! first year I get to vote! 😀

  9. taylor nikole Says:

    well technically both candidates have their faults… obama has his yet I find myself agreeing with his views more…
    maybe because they seem more liberal opposed to mccain who is so far to the right…
    also palin (she makes me angry)

    obama will win… we will get our ‘history’ and im excited.. I have faith.

    im just really hoping for a good after.. no matter who wins… they have a lot in store ahed of them….
    its time to fix this country…

    oh and the socialist views aren’t horrible… I think tax should depend on what is made.. we are greedy people anyways (or the majority actually is) so why not give back….

    woooo soo close to having a new president! good bye and good ridens bush! anyone is better than him.

  10. taylor nikole Says:

    “Well the New York Times were wrong cause I’m white and I’m voting Obama. ”

    yep, this is true..,
    many people who are white are voting for obama…
    also some republicans are too

    Then the question is…
    is it really a matter of just race?
    considering republicans have been so influenced and persuaded by obama.

  11. Sascha Says:

    says it all actually… yes, you can 😉

  12. Nana Says:

    OBAMA! woot woot!

  13. taylor nikole Says:

    heheh 🙂
    i GOT an I VOTED
    cause i went to the polls with my mom
    and helped her vote basically haha 🙂
    im happy
    all i wanted was the sticker…
    and during next election i can vote!

  14. taylor nikole Says:

    OBAMA!!! WON!!!

  15. taylor nikole Says:

    fist… black president…
    history 🙂

  16. Gina Says:

    Obama won!! YES! But I’ve got to admit, I feel bad for McCain. His speech was so heartwarming.

  17. taylor nikole Says:

    It was…
    they booed.
    kinda sad…
    oh well
    dude, politics in this country are amazing
    and i think i like cried when they announced him pres.

  18. Sarah Says:

    YAY OBAMA!!!! i was so sad i could not vote… why cant they change the age limit to vote to those who are so close to being 18! I am so hopeful for our country, I started crying when watching Obama’s acceptance speech, I just hope so much that we can change things and have a President that will help our country, and that when his term is over people will marvel at his work instead of sighing in relief. GOOD LUCK!!!

  19. taylor nikole Says:

    I cried too..

  20. Chris Says:

    omg me too… the speech was a tearjerker.

    I still respect John McCain for a strong campaign and applaud Obama for inspiring many Americans. They are both are true patriots regardless of anyone’s beliefs.

  21. taylor nikole Says:

    my problem is with palin really… mccain had some great points ad not so great just like any other candidate.
    overall it was and has been an amazing night 🙂
    everyone who voted helped make history 🙂

  22. jessica f Says:

    i have to admit that i was pretty neutral to both candidates. but i am ECSTATIC about proposition 2. I LOVE ANIMALS SO MUCH! It means so much to me, being born and raised in California. I am so lucky to be living history, being able to tell my children about proposition 2 and the first african american president!! I am full chinese, always seen as a “minority”. well, obama is surely opening up so many more opportunities and doors for us “colored”” people. 🙂

  23. taylor nikole Says:

    gosh it so true im extremely proud of this country at the moment. its so amazing how much change can come from this and how much tolerance has progressed and can only keep progressing and spreding from here…
    no matter the bad an unfixable… I see good change.
    haha I cried again… 🙂

  24. Chris Says:

    hopefully the ban on gay marriage is not gonna go through in Cali

    I just rewatched the speech…and wow we are actually witnessing history

    it will certainly be interesting to see how things will be changing because of Obama in office.

  25. Emma-Lu Says:

    Congratulations all USA GBD members!! I am so excited Obama won! I’ve been holding thumbs for him since the start of his campaign. Saw his acceptance speech on CNN this morning.. haha made me late for work!!! What an exciting and historical moment to be part of you guys! WOOOOTTTTT! xxx

  26. taylor nikole Says:

    only about 30 percent or 35 have been counted… for some reason that counting seems more legit then the actual presidentia vote counting lol 🙂
    the yes votes are stil ahead…
    its making me mad.. haha
    there is this church dowm the street that had about 20 yes on 8 signs and today I noticed somone had stuck a no on 8 right in the middle 🙂 I laughed so hard ‘i almost peed my pants’
    lol 🙂

  27. Scott123 Says:

    For those who don’t know, I am from northern Illinois, and I voted for Barak Obama for Senator. I have been watching this guy for a while, and last night…I was there! In Grant Park in Chicago. It truly was in the air! Excitement, change, it was palpable! I have never seen anything like this. The crowd was positively electric! Yes we did!

    I will leave with an old saying, “Republicans sleep with the blinds up, Democrats sleep with the blinds down, and that’s why there’s three times more Democrats.” 🙂

    Your friend in Politics,

  28. marie Q. Says:

    obama won.!

  29. Jane | BH Says:

    So glad Obama WON! & I’m glad to be alive in ths historcal moment! Even though I’m a British citizen, but a lot of the things America does affects Britain and the rest of the world!!! & I’m glad there’s going to be change 🙂


  30. Le Amazing Mari Says:

    Glad Obama on. Sad prop 8 passed. also sad about arkansas, arizona and florida.

  31. Le Amazing Mari Says:

    Glad Obama won. Sad prop 8 passed. also sad about arkansas, arizona and florida.

  32. kristina Says:

    okay so usually i have no interest in politics whatsoever but this blog really got me thinking. About half the people in my grade told me they only voted for obama because he is african american, and because it would be a historical event if he won. They didn’t vote for him based on his thoughts on the way the country should be run, but only based on the historical significance his victory would have. This just proves that race played a MAJOR part in the election process.

  33. Emily Says:

    Mari, why are you sad about Arkansas? Because we’re sane and went Republican?
    I’m sorry, I am not glad Obama won. It’s been a sad, sad day.
    The really sad thing is that most people only voted for him because he’s half African American. Why?! Don’t look at someone’s race to vote. Race is not that big of an issue anymore. Now we get to deal with continuing legalized abortion, redistribution of wealth, socialized healthcare… the list goes on.
    This is what we have to look forward to… Thanks to my dad for this e-mail.
    “Today on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign that read ‘Vote Obama, I need the money.’ I laughed. Once in the restaurant my server had on an ‘Obama 08’ tie. Again, I laughed as he had given away his political preference — just imagine the coincidence.
    When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need–the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight.
    I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I’d decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.
    At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn. I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.”
    Switzerland, anyone?

  34. taylor nikole Says:

    don’t look at someones race to vote?
    don’t look at someones gender to vote
    its all the same
    so its not the same when they vote on a white
    guy over a black guy because the guy is white?
    and the other guy is black?
    sure some wanted to see a black president, but his ideas that he put out there weren’t so horrible.
    Race has always been an issue
    so why call it now when a black president wins the race?
    if race isn’t such a big issue anymore…
    then why are we calling it so when he wins?

    all you can do now is give him a chance.
    A great majority of the country voted for him…
    even turning registered republicans to his side.
    Technically there is no going back and almost anyone
    is better than Bush.

    i think mari was talking about the arkansas props that were passed
    not how they voted president wise

  35. Emily Says:

    Race isn’t a big issue anymore. I’ve been saying that ever since I got to high school. And I’m not trying to make it a big issue. A poll somewhere was taken, and a very large majority of those who were asked said race had been a factor in their voting, and they voted Obama because he is black.
    I’m not against blacks. I’m actually very good friends with several African Americans. My family is Republican, and I’m against several of the ideas Obama stands for, not his race. It just upsets me that a lot of this race WAS about ethnicity and gender. It shouldn’t have been. But it was.
    But you’re right, Taylor Nikole. Anyone is probably better than Bush. Don’t even get me started on No Child Left Behind…
    And sorry, Mari. Just because I live in Arkansas doesn’t mean I know everything that gets passed. I guess I jumped the gun a bit. =/
    … but we were sane in going Republican. I feel kinda out of place in this comment thread. Everyone else is all for Obama. =/

  36. taylor nikole Says:

    haha not everyone is for obama

    yeah no child left behind…
    i agree.

    well its mainly because politics are a sensitive subject

  37. Ver0nik21 Says:

    I’m sorry to disagree but you and the world making the election of Obama as historic merely coz of the colour of his skin makes race still a big deal!
    Many highlight today were all about Obama: the first african american president! (some polite newspapers said) ot just plain the first black president in America.

    An as for McCain losing well there were 3 major factors:
    Financial squeeze: From the start, his biggest problem was finding the money to compete with Barack Obama’s $650m (£403m) campaign juggernaut. By accepting federal funding (which Mr Obama declined) he capped his general election campaign spending at $85m (£53m).
    Palin problems: But choosing someone with no national experience and no foreign experience as his running mate raised questions about his judgement and undermined his main argument against Mr Obama.
    Hopes dashed: This was another aspect of the McCain strategy that seemed to backfire. Although Mr McCain ran only 10% more purely negative adverts than his rival, according to media monitoring groups, they were more deeply personal attacks – accusing Mr Obama of having a close relationship with a “domestic terrorist”, for example. Such ads created a backlash from independent voters, according to the polls, and Mr McCain was forced to change his tone.
    In fact, he could never quite find a narrative that worked. He went from being war hero, to the voice of experience, to maverick, to tax-cutter, but he never found a way to lift himself in the polls.

    I have to say I’m glad Obama won coz America needed the change, but that doesn’t mean I’m not worry for his economical plan.
    Let’s see what will happen.

    love & peace!

  38. taylor nikole Says:

    many people are afraid because obamas socialist views

  39. Emily Says:

    Okay. I suppose I haven’t been saying my line right.
    Race is a big deal, at least in this election. My problem is, it SHOULDN’T be.
    Racism isn’t a big deal anymore.
    I know it’s historic that Obama is the first black president. Way to go, honestly. I don’t have anything against a black person for president. It’s only historic because he’s the first black person insane enough to want to run.
    Anyone who wants to be president is insane. McCain and all independent party reps included.
    Am I contradicting myself? Sorry if I am. I really hate politics. And I’m probably responding to this with more force than I should be.
    It’s just that, I go to an extremely diverse school, and I hate it when people make race a big deal. I know I kind of am now. But I’m trying to make a point. So bear with me.
    Why is it that mainly white people are considered racist? For this argument only, let’s say all white people who voted against Obama are considered racist.
    Are all black people who voted against McCain considered racist as well?
    I know the term racist came from way back when, when whites were oppressing African American slaves. But, the term really works both ways now.
    I guess that’s the point I was trying to make. I sort of took a roundabout way of getting there. Ah well.
    Ya’ll are probably thinking I am insane. Maybe I am.
    Another e-mail from my dad, paraphrased a bit. I hope this doesn’t offend anybody. I just thought it made an interesting point.
    “There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, Native Americans, etc… and then there are just – Americans.
    You have the United Negro College Fund. You have Martin Luther King Day. You have Black History Month. You have Cesar Chavez Day. You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi. You have the NAACP. And you have BET.
    If we had WET (White Entertainment Television)… We’d be racists.
    If we had a White Pride Day… You would call us racists.
    If we had White History Month… We’d be racists.
    If we had any organization for only whites to “advance” OUR lives… We’d be racists.
    If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships… You know we’d be racists.
    There are over 60 openly-proclaimed Black-only Colleges in the US, yet if there were “White-only Colleges”… THAT would be a racist college.
    When a white police officer shoots a black gang member or beats up a black drug-dealer who is running from the LAW and posing a threat to ALL of society… You call him a racist.
    Why is it that only whites can be racist?”
    Thoughts? Not intending to offend anybody. Just trying to make some point. Sorry if it got lost in the translation. =/

  40. Emma-Lu Says:

    In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, came into power in 1994 and benchmarked himself as one of the greatest global leaders of our time. Ofcourse after his 5 year term he retired and his successor was a leader who didn’t share his humanitarian, bipartisan approach to politics, so now we’re struggling to find another one like him.

    Obama in my mind is also charismatic, forgiving, a great listener, intelligent and a global thinker.

    You are VERY lucky to have someone like him as your leader. People with foresight and forgiveness come around once in a lifetime!

    All leaders come with new challenges, and there will always be areas where you highly disagree. During Barack’s acceptance speech I remember him saying that he couldn’t make any promises but that he needs everyone’s help and he’s willing to listen!

    Obama can’t radically change a system like that! Any BIG changes (socialist) have to go through the senate and house of representatives, right?

  41. skahahoo Says:

    @ Emily – I understand what you’re saying. Ideally, race wouldn’t be an issue and each person would be judged on individual merits. But, as you pointed out, race in this election does seem to have played a role. And I think to be fair, the race issue cut both ways. If people voted for Obama simply because he’s black, I think it’s fair to say that there were also people who didn’t vote for him because he’s black. In either case, I think it’s a sign that, while we have made progress, we still have more work to do.

    As to your question about why only white people are referred to as racists…it’s a good question. Perhaps I can clarify. Most dictionary definitions of “racism” or “racist” say that not only is there a judgment based on race, but that there’s a belief that one race is superior to another. There is an implication of a power structure. In American history, whites have traditionally held power (some would argue that they continue to hold power). And so, since it has historically been whites who suppressed blacks, for example, it is whites who are labeled as racists, should the label even come up. I’ve heard it argued that blacks can’t be racist because they don’t hold a position of power, and that racism is about power. This isn’t what I necessarily believe, but I do understand the argument, and have met a number of people who feel this way (both whites and minorities), at least in the States.

    Hope that clears things up a little. 🙂

  42. skahahoo Says:

    Oh also…I just wanted to say I agree with Emma-Lu (hi Emma!)…that it’s going to take a lot more than Obama to socialize the U.S. government. As far as socialism goes, many have already decried the Bush administration for taking a step in that direction by partly nationalizing the banking system. I don’t know anything about banking and what-not. Just thought I’d throw that out there. Heehee. 😉

  43. Scott123 Says:


    Pop Quiz

    Please give a definition of the following terms:







    These terms get bandied about a little too often, it seems to me, without regard for their meaning. For those in the US, remember, whatever you think, these are your countrymen.
    I have to be careful here, or I’ m going to start ranting. Republican, or Democrat, these are my countrymen, and I love them all.

    Your friend in Politics

  44. taylor nikole Says:

    socialism in theory is the distribution of money among the community as a whole
    *haha yep gotta love political vocab in school*
    Although not always as great as it sounds.

    One down 🙂
    haha i just wanna see what everyone else says

  45. Katlynne Says:

    I am very conservative. So having Barack win was very hard on me. But i guess it is the Liberal’s turn for the President. I am just worried about his safety, because even though anyone can become president in th USA doesn’t mean we don’t have horrible racism here. I could never hate my president, I am a true American. But i will pray for him to make wise decisions on being so inexperienced. Thats nothing against he, but thats the truth he doesn’t have a lot.

  46. Foretold Says:

    Sorry to disappoint you, but my feelings about Mr. Obama told me that he’s not going to be the president his campaign promised us to be – or maybe only in a very strange, distorted and subtly sick way.

    I wish I could be more specific by now, but all I have to say is that he cold-bloodedly deceived just too many (mostly poorer) people and he is just deep into corruption all over his knees.

    This has nothing to do with race. Alzheimer McCain would almost be as bad as him. I had the luck to be able to vote for Madam McKinney from the green party, despite me being a white guy. She’s a real “changer”, just have a look at this page from the Wikipedia:

    regards Foretold

  47. Lena Says:

    communism is where all economic and social affairs are controlled by a single party or the state, or they belong to the community as a whole.

  48. Gabby Says:

    YES WE CAN!!!

  49. taylor nikole Says:


    what did you expect?
    the presidential candidates always make
    promises they can’t keep
    its show…
    but we are desperate for change
    and desperate for a better leader
    so we take our chances
    and put hope in what we don’t understand fully..

  50. Emma-Lu Says:


    I just think you should be weary of throwing around accusations of corruption without presenting the proof; Don’t you think?

    Also, someone gave me a great tip the other day. Try to separate Fact from Perception, otherwise you give feelings of fear and cynicism much more power than you should.

    Why not give Obama time to prove himself. He is undoubtedly an intellectual and a thinking man. But one of the most positive things about him is that he’s got so many Youth all interested and fired up about Politics; to have their say. That is seriously awesome and can only be described as positive in my mind. xx

  51. moxie Says:

    I hate it when I tell people that I hate obama and they call me a racist.

    I don’t hate Obama because he’s black. I hate him because he is a unpatriotic liberal nut job. Give me a black conservative republican, and I will be glad to support and vote for him/her.

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